Home > Liberal Mainline Protestantism > The Danger of Tinkering with the Bible’s Original Language and the Language of Christian Creeds: How Jesus Went Missing in the United Church of Christ

The Danger of Tinkering with the Bible’s Original Language and the Language of Christian Creeds: How Jesus Went Missing in the United Church of Christ

July 18th, 2011
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This is a great blog post from the Gospel Coalition’s blog site.

The Curious Case of How the United Church of Christ Lost Jesus

Posted By John Starke On July 15, 2011

“We are still a Trinitarian denomination,” United Church of Christ spokesman Bennett Guess says. You may be in trouble if you find yourself explaining that you’re still trinitarian. After six years of debate, the UCC has resolved [1] to revise their bylaws and constitution to replace every instance of “Heavenly Father” with “Triune God.”

Here’s how the UCC explains the change:

This was not a theological document. It was a restructuring from five boards to one. And in doing this, we dealt with bylaws written decades ago, before the denomination’s commitment to using inclusive and expansive imagery for God.

We no longer use exclusively male language to refer to God. We haven’t for a long time.

On the bright side you might conclude of this progressive denomination, “Well, at least they’re sticking with the Trinity.” And that’s how some have defended the UCC against charges of “sawing off one leg of Christianity’s Holy Trinity.” USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman rather sardonically comes to the defense [3] of the UCC, says that this change in language will not, in fact, cause the 1 million-member denomination to “rebuff Christ and God by slashing a reference to God as ‘Heavenly Father.’”

Maybe not. But the problem is that you’re not trinitarian just by calling yourself trinitarian. The Bible doesn’t allow for us to worship the Trinity as God A, God A, and Holy God A and still call ourselves Christian.

We can learn a lesson from the Arians, a popular but heretical faction in the early church. They didn’t want use the name “Father” either. But their motives were a little more explicitly mischievous. They didn’t think the Son was equal with God, so eternally speaking, God was not a Father since the Son didn’t eternally exist. Searching for a name to describe this view of God, they came up with “Unoriginate.”

Isn’t it interesting that when we try to clear God of his trinitarian nature and then try to describe who he is, we only have impersonal terms?

Athanasius didn’t like the term “Unoriginate,” and not just because it sounded like a poorly named professional wrestler. He rejected the title because it didn’t explain who God is fundamentally. By calling God the “Unoriginate,” we are defining him by what is in contrast, the “originate”—that is, creation. And God is not dependent upon the existence of creation, nor is he defined by it. So we must do better than “Unoriginate.”

But, as Athanasius pointed out, if we call God “Father,” we immediately contemplate the Son. And here we have something that is fundamental and eternal to both of them: The Father is the Father of the Son; the Son is the Son of the Father. To know God, we must know God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Otherwise we are grasping for totems of our own imaginations.

And now back to the curious case of the UCC. The problem isn’t only their sensitivity to gender-exclusivity in God or their modern sensibilities trumping the Bible. As we saw with the Arians, if you don’t have a Heavenly Father, then you don’t have a Son. And if you don’t have a Son, you’ve lost Jesus.

As evangelicals concerned with the centrality of the gospel, we must speak carefully and biblically about who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Like taking an ax to a trunk of a tree, if we speak loosely about God and his nature, the gospel will come tumbling down with it.

As creatures, we depend on God to reveal knowledge of himself to us. Who are we to give him his name? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has told us so.

Article republished from The Gospel Coalition Blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc

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  1. Rev. Allen Yount
    July 18th, 2011 at 18:34 | #1

    ”All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and *no one knows the Son except the Father,* and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt. 11;27 ESV).

    I believe that states it quite clearly and unequivocally. Just as you cannot have the Father without the Son, you cannot have the Son without the Father.

    Rev. Allen Yount
    – Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio Faciunt Theologum –

  2. melxiopp
    July 19th, 2011 at 10:46 | #2

    And the Father is not the Trinity. That’s the real problem with this change, but that reveals the poor state of triadology in much of Christianity (perhaps especially Protestantism, of both the ‘evangelical’ and liberal varieties).

  3. Pr. Mark Schroeder
    July 19th, 2011 at 12:58 | #3

    Historical/personal note: As a former ELCA pastor, when I explained the rationale behind inclusive language, eg, ‘the Name of God is a patriarchal construct inherently oppressive of women and therefore must be changed’, I have heard more shock from faithful Lutherans (also LCMS) over the inclusive language rationale than over homosexuality. Everyone knows about latter but not necessarily the former. This has been one of the sad triumphs of heresy in our day, but it was accomplished through the sheer persistence of the heretics for over 25 years. I first came across that long ago and this was the first issue in the ELCA that prompted protest. Inclusive language is much more invasive and thereby corrosive than acceptance of pseudogamy: it sounds right…but of course is not. Change the language, and then one can manipulate the truth.

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